Saturday, 1 June 2013
Anderson's article answers one of my questions about Desai's theory. According to Hord, not all civilizations are locked into the pattern that he describes. Instead, some, existing at the time he was writing, were in "free growth" (p. 10).
But, in most cases:
society fails to solve some basic problem;
about 125 years later, that society breaks down unless, within that time, the breakdown event is retrospectively identified and the damage repaired;
but, with the passage of time, repair becomes harder, then impossible;
loyalty to failing institutions is strained until civil wars (Chinese "Contending States") ensue;
many brilliant achievements of a civilization date from this epoch;
one contender succeeds "...and establishes a Toynbeean 'universal state'" (p. 11);
the "principate" phase of the universal state is, first, enlightened and tolerant but, later, corrupted and losing all legitimacy;
a new round of civil wars and equally ruthless although quieter power struggles leads to the increasingly oppressive "dominate" phase, which also breaks down;
in the following dark age, a new society is born;
the gestating society has bad times but also hopeful periods, for example when its "ghost empire" disintegrates (I have heard the Catholic Church described as the ghost of the Roman Empire enthroned on its tomb but I do not know whether this is one of Hord's "ghost empires");
having exhausted the pattern, society takes off into "free growth," apparently able to develop in any direction unless, presumably, another basic problem remains unsolved, thus re-initiating the pattern of about 1500 years from breakdown to rebirth, although some broken-down societies have been retrieved by "conversion tyrannies" with their own shorter pattern and some universal states have been aborted (that would be by invasion and conquest, according to Desai).
Hord's contributions are the closely measured spans for the stages but also the recognition that there is no absolute inevitability.